Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Answers to Earlier Questions: The Trash

Today, I learned the reason why there are no trash cans on the streets of Seoul. I brought this issue up earlier in my post about dealing with garbage, on October 25. Well, this mystery has been solved, and the answer is definitely original. Apparently the reason that there are very few public trash cans is to reduce the possibility of trash can bombings. In particular, they are worried about bombs placed by North Koreans.

True story.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lunar New Year

This past weekend, on Sunday and Monday, was the celebration of Seolnal, or Lunar New Year. If you are not familiar with what Lunar New Year means, it is the start of a new year as marked by the lunar calendar, as opposed to January 1st which marks the new year on the solar calendar. This year, Seolnal also fell on Valentine's Day (a post on that topic to come at a later date), which created an interesting dynamic between the consumerism of Valentine's Day and the traditionalism of Lunar New Year.

On Seolnal, like on Chuseok, most Koreans travel to meet their families. Although for most this means leaving Seoul and heading to the countryside, it is becoming more common for families to come into the city on holidays. In residential areas of the city like Mokdong (where I live), this means an almost complete shutdown for two days of all businesses that aren't McDonald's or the school I work for.

Again like Chuseok, Seolnal involves paying respect to your ancestors. Typically, Koreans wear new clothes or Korean traditional clothing called hanbok to mark the day, and many families play a traditional stick game called yut. However, if you're young the day can become quite a payday as older relatives give you pocket money for wishing them a happy new year. I'm not talking about petty change either; the average student of mine made out with about $200 this past weekend.

새해 복 많이 받으세요!

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Lack of Cows

One of the most striking features of the restaurant business here in Korea is the predominance of pork over beef as a food choice. Pork is abundant and cheap, while servings of beef are usually smaller than servings of pork and can be up to five times more expensive. So, what's the deal? I asked my friend if there were any cows in Korea and he said there were, but, in my opinion, there are obviously not enough. That's not to say that the pork here is necessarily bad. There is a wide variety of pork cuts available (luckily, not a pork chop to be found), and I have made done a complete 180 in my eating habits as a result. I would venture to say that I ate pork as a meal maybe 5 times a year in the US, not counting dishes with bacon on them. Here in Korea, I eat pork almost every day. I have certainly been satisfied with the pork, but a person does start to yearn for a steak after a while...

The lack of cows is also seen in the sometimes outrageous pricing of dairy products. While milk is fairly reasonable, cheese and ice cream are significantly more expensive than in the United States, I would guess anywhere from 2-4 times pricier here. Even the milk is not the same as in America, however; there is a disturbing lack of skim or lowfat milk, and the stuff I use in my cereal bears a closer resemblance to cream than to the milk I've used for the past 15-20 years of my life. Perhaps this is because cereal itself is still a relatively new phenomenon in Korea.

My proposal is a steady influx of calves to Korea. If you come visit, please remember to pack a baby cow in your suitcase.